Interview With Margaret Cho

Being truthful means as much to Margaret Cho as being funny. And to prove it, she'll stare down embarrassment (perhaps you've heard her describes sh—ing her pants while driving in her car?), misery (after her disastrous short-lived series, All-American Girl, she went into a drug-fueled tailspin that became the basis for a little piece of genius called, I'm the One That I Want), and alienation (being "uninvited" to an HRC event celebrating GLBT unity to avoid controversy re-defines the word "notorious") – usually with hilarious results.

A self-described "fag hag" "raised by drag queens" who's had a lesbian experience of her own, Cho always uses the terms "us" and "we" when talking about the gay and lesbian community. Never at a loss for words or without an opinion, the writer, performer and gay icon talked to AfterEllen about her upcoming feature film, Bam Bam and Celeste, hosting Cyndi Lauper's True Colors tour, the lack of Asians on television and racism.

AfterEllen.com: What motivated you to write Bam Bam and Celeste?
Margaret Cho: There aren't ever any parts for me. If I want to do a movie or whatever, it's impossible to find parts out there for me. I had to write my own script.

AE: Bam Bam is a gay high school boy played by your friend and comedian Bruce Daniels, and you play Celeste, his best friend and fag hag. Why did you choose to tell that story?
MC: I decided it would be fun [to play] myself in a coming-of-age story. And I wanted to do something for Bruce, too, because I think he's great.

AE: In the movie, your characters get taunted and harassed a lot — Bam Bam for being gay, and Celeste for being a freaky sort of girl.
MC: I know.

AE: Was that something that happened to you in real life?
MC: Yeah, definitely. It was generally because I was such a weirdo; I always had problems wherever I went. That kind of thing really angered the popular kids around me. The cliques were infuriated that I never wanted to conform to anything, [and further] that I didn't care. That was the situation I would run into time and time again.

AE: It's not just the kids who are cruel in your movie. There's a reoccurring scene where Celeste's neighbor throws his morning newspaper at her head as she walks to school.
MC: Yeah, that really happened to me. I would get milk shakes thrown at me. That was a good, satisfying way to portray that and show people that [it] actually happened. It's true. It's fine.

AE: Well, it made me want to slap him.
MC: I know.

AE: All-American Girl was canceled after only one season in 1995. And we haven't seen another Asian-American series on network or cable TV since. What's the hold up?
MC:
I think they're really racist. I think, for some reason, there's this lack of acceptance or … I don't know what it is. I think there are more Asians on television, which is good.

AE: With the exception of Sandra Oh and a very small handful of featured actors, Asians don't represent to the degree that other minorities do. I'm waiting for a Chinese version of Everybody Hates Chris.
MC: I think it's weird. I'm not sure what it has to do with. … I think there's a lack of network executives who want to do anything like that, and it's hard.

AE: I read a message-board post written by a Korean American expressing dismay that the Virginia Tech shooter was Korean. What are your thoughts about that?
MC: Well, it's hard because when you're Asian, when you're an immigrant, your welcome in this country is really conditional. And it depends on your good behavior, basically, and your achievements. And we're not considered a part of the country like white people are.

During Virginia Tech, South Korea had to offer condolences, and that's just weird, because that kid was American. And yet so much of his identity was wrapped up in his Koreanness, because that's what was used to define him.

We're not defined like white people are. Like if a white person had done it, they wouldn't say "white shooter," but with this one, it was all about … that Korean shooter. People [were] questioning who we're letting into this country and all this. So it's a very difficult thing.

I mean, I can't explain what happened. But people even complained that my special was on TV after the thing happened because my name is Cho. Everyone complained to the networks, saying, "That's in bad taste that you show that in light of recent events." And it's like, I had nothing to do with it. It's not like he's in my family, but they're treating it like he was my family.

AE: Some people are racist idiots.
MC: It's total racism, but because racism against Asians is not registered … Americans don't view that as being racist.

AE: Maybe we sometimes buy into our own stereotype: Work hard and don't make waves. Maybe it's time to make waves.
MC: Yeah. It is time. There needs to be some changes made. And everybody has to do their part.

AE: You've also always been extremely vocal about gay and lesbian rights. This June, you'll be hosting Cyndi Lauper's True Colors tour. How did you get involved with that?
MC: I was just asked to do it. Cyndi Lauper asked me, and I was thrilled because I'm a huge fan of hers — a huge fan of all of the artists on the tour — and I'm really excited to be able to do it.

AE: Did you know Cyndi already? You both seem to be cut from the same cloth.
MC: No. I've never met her, but I'm just a fan from way back. I love her so much. [She's] very [much a] feminist. She's really unique and talented. I think she's incredible.

AE: In the past, you've said you're waiting for the next "trash-talking , s—-starting, fag-hag girl comic" to come along and take your place. I can't think of anyone on the horizon who could do that.
MC: I would love to see more people out there. And I'd love to see more women out there. You know, it's hard. There aren't a lot of women in comedy. There never has been, and there doesn't seem to be anybody new. It's very much a boys' club, and it's very difficult for women to break in. It's even more difficult for minority women. I don't know how people will do it, but I'd love to see some new people.

AE: Maybe you need to have a daughter.
MC:
Yeah, maybe that's it.

AE: You're making movies, doing online projects, and you're a prolific blogger. Do you think you'll ever give up doing stand-up?
MC: No, I love to do stand-up. To me, that's really exciting; it's really what I do. It's something that is very important to me, and I'll continue to do it forever, I hope.

AE: I hope so, too. You'll be imitating your mother, but it won't really be the imitation. It'll just be you at 60.
MC: That would be great.

The True Colors tour begins June 8, and Bam Bam and Celeste opens nationwide on Aug. 14.

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